Do You Know Sumo?

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“Look Mommy! It’s fat-bottom wrestling!”


Maybe your children grew up on football and Disney. Mine grew up on sumo and PiYo PiYo.


Our three-year-old was especially fascinated by sumo. Who wouldn’t be entranced by two hefty, thong-clad giants who stomp in, throw stuff on the floor, and then push one another around?


We were introduced to fat-bottom wresting when we first arrived in Asia in 1988. We had no Netflix, no Apple TV, no Hulu — just three Mandarin television stations. If our girls weren’t watching the English VHS cartoons we’d brought with us, then they were watching Chinese TV. And for some reason, (only understood in the minds of Taiwanese programers) “fat-bottom wresting” aired just after Japanese cartoons.


Sumo excitement begins when several enormous, half-naked guys thud onto an elevated ring. You know they are true rikishis (wrestlers) by evidence of their hair buns. This topknot, called a chonmage, is a very big deal in the sport. Wrestlers grow their hair out for two years in order to employ a specially-trained hairdresser to brush, wax, and knot their tresses. And no going to the beauty shop for these big beauties. Each communal living quarter, called a stable (you think I’m teasing), has its own stylist (tokoyama).


What we try to disguise under free-flowing pants and tunics, fat-bottom wrestlers freely expose. Clumping out on stage weighing somewhere between three-hundred and six-hundred big ones, they bulk up by consuming large amounts of stable stew (chankonabe). This porridge consists heavily (pun intended) on the protein of fatty meats, eggs, and tofu. Add copious amounts of starch, beer and an immediate nap and you’ve got a sumo wrestler in his prime.


The ritual before a sumo bout is just as interesting as the match itself. For the amateur viewer, let me give a step by step look at the wrestler. First, face opponent. Squat. Bounce. Straighten up, then down and bounce some more. Waddle to the corner of ring. Grab a handful of sacred salt. Pitch it into the ring to appease the gods. Slap your belly. Face opponent. Squat, bounce and give an exaggerated clap. Discern that you need more salt. Saunter back to the corner. Wipe yourself down from all of the sweating caused by the squatting and bouncing. Loosen up a bit by swinging arms. Slap belly again as well as possibly thighs and buttocks (after all, everything is easily assessed). Grab more salt and toss. Shuffle back to center of ring. Probably step on salt. Recognize that your upbringing in a barn will be handy here. Paw bottom of foot across floor. More bouncing, swatting, squatting, and self-slapping. Now things really heat up. From squatted position, hike one leg slowly in the air, then bring it down with a very deliberate stomp. Hike opposite leg. Stomp.


Now, let’s take a brief pause here, as I know your blood pressure is quite elevated. I would like to mention a finer detail of sumo that may not be covered in lesser informational pieces. For those of you living in the United States, you’ve probably been wondering how many of the people you’ve seen in the supermarket might actually be fat-bottom wrestlers. Here is a quick discerning tool. Most of your U.S. supermarket shoppers do not sport a chonmage. Next, pay close attention to whether or not these specimens scratch, burp and pass gas in public. If so, then you may rest assured this is not a fat-bottom wrestler gone incognito. This is only your average American couch potato. Please do not to confuse the two.


Now, back to the intensity of the sumo match. We have left our opponents facing one another in a squatting position. Each simultaneously thuds fists to floor to begin the match. Then both stand, and suddenly one fat guy tosses the other out of the ring. Honestly, this part usually takes a nano-second. To be fair, sometimes you do get a chance to see a little flab grabbed or to watch a brisk wedgie, but rarely does the contest last sixty seconds. It’s no wonder that the warm-up exercises are so lengthy. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything to spectate.


Regardless of our love of stomping and squatting, our girls finally tired of the sport, especially after cable came to Taiwan. Overnight, we went from three Chinese channels, to a plethora of multi-language programs. Despite my initial excitement, I soon began to long for the days of fat-bottom wrestling. After all, in comparison to the uncensored viewing that could be found on most every cable channel, we came to appreciate the modesty of our beloved sumo wrestlers and their wide-girth thongs.